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Vagina WarriorsReview - Vagina Warriors
by Eve Ensler and Joyce Tenneson
Bulfinch, 2005
Review by A.P. Bober
Jun 17th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 24)

From the publisher's description of the book:

"VAGINA WARRIORS is a unique collaboration between playwright/activist/V-Day founder Eve Ensler, creator of the international hit The Vagina Monologues, and world-renowned photographer Joyce Tenneson, whose Wise Women changed the way people look at women and aging. The book features Ensler's essay alongside Tenneson's portraits of V-Day activists, many of them well-known celebrities, with powerful statements and quotations from the subjects. Ensler has dubbed these women and men, who are committed to ending violence against women and girls throughout the world, Vagina Warriors. The celebrities featured include Glenn Close, Salma Hayek, Gloria Steinem, Isabella Rossellini, Jane Fonda, and numerous others.

Vagina Warriors are at the very heart of V-Day, the global movement founded by Ensler. Every February to March, local activists raise awareness and funds through V-Day benefit productions of The Vagina Monologues and other events. The movement is growing rapidly throughout the world. V-Day has so far raised more than $20 million and was named one of Worth magazine's 100 Best Charities." (Copyright 2005 by Time Warner Bookmark)

 

"Eve Essler's proceeds from the sale of Vagina Warriors will benefit V-Day." (Publication page) All of them? A portion?  A 2002 San Francisco V-Day "raised $500,000" (p. 115) and the "money was distributed among twenty-four anti-violence organizations." All of it? The theater donated their services? Finally, near the end (p. 137), some reality: "The Vagina Monologues donated a portion of each ticket sold to V-Day. . . ." Full disclosure promotes a cause and free use above costs to organizations forwarding the work underscores sincerity. Ultimately, all such movements, such as those using the "lost-child-on-milk-carton" approach (p. 67) must face Marx's charge of "utopian socialism" (painfully close to his own program) or even "ideological domination." (My social-worker first wife used to toss back by the tail horseshoe crabs that seemed compelled by the "structure" ["basis"/"nature"] of things to continue beaching themselves.) Culturally, someone has to begin a new practice, as a man in Egypt some 3000 years ago seems to have done, mutilating women genitally. [I wish I knew who started mutilating males.] Study of societies back millennia, even though mostly reported by male social scientists, has shown me, not surprisingly, a gross imbalance in gender-role power. I don't expect the "pendulum" to "swing back" soon. (Nelson Mandela is a person who, if anyone had "the right," could have swung a pendulum back with a vengeance.)

Leafing through smilingly fulfilled faces in the book, sometimes hauntingly edged with pain, I was pleased to see friends (and sisters) on pages 22 (encouraging Palestinian-Israeli togetherness), 28 (endearing student friends), 25, and loving sisters, pages 68 and 89, crowned, finally, by heartwarming mothers and daughters (as on page 17). Of the mostly single photos, it is the seemingly barely transcended pain of Esther Chavez Cano (p. 132) that stays with me. Most impressive is Kenyan Winifridah Anyango's help empowering 150,000 women and girls to resist abuses of power. 

The few men in the book are relegated to the status of "co-women" as if men were not fathers in positive ways to sons and daughters as well and many do not suffer from enculturated insecurities expressing themselves in the will to power and ownership nicely phrased by sociologist Kingsley Davis as the "jealousy and sexual property" theme. "Fe-," "wo-," and the "-(s)hah" of Genesis implies the "female" is derived from male, the detritus of that which is not "male," rather than that expressed in Ashley-Montagu's view that  XY is a more illness-prone, "broken," XX. This underscores a "we are all (biologically) one" balanced view that would place mother-son, father-daughter, brother-sister together in communities of damaged "cadres" for action. "V-Day exists for no other reason than to stop violence against women." (Publication page) [If, if fact, there is no difference between "males/men" and "females/women" not manufactured in the cultural process, would not V-Day be held for all human beings rather than that "supportive" men be seen as ancillary to a one-sidedly framed movement?] After so many centuries of abuse directed against what ostensibly seems the "distaff" "other," balance may be too much to hope for.  And a final note on "balance" acknowledging the (culturally) "in-between" is the book's recognition of "transgendered" "women" whose choice of role (p. 11, Calpernia and Andrea; p. 142, "they beat the girl out of my boy. . .") shows some of the social-psychological flexibility cultural forms provide.

Speaking of culture, a woman running a safe house in Kenya (p. 140) seeks to provide "alternative rituals" to genital mutilation and early marriage. "Sedimented" rituals and cultural lies, like the winked-at Santa, maim us as children, mentally and "spiritually."

On the negative side contradictions and gross strategic misconceptions appear in the book: violence is "indiscriminate of class, age, neighborhood, and race" (p. 136). (The six American class levels vary tremendously in size; finding just one victim in each class would qualify as "indiscriminate of class.") Three sentences later the authors have "patterns" "change across cultural lines" (thus not "indiscriminate" as to cultural category). Class is culture, as are regional differences, "age" versus the passage of years, and gender-role, such as assaults on Garrett's hypostatized "femininity" (p. 61). Structurally recasting social practices works better than merely "[changing] social attitudes" programmatically. Little need be said about this final bit of naiveté: "They [V-Day women] are directed by vision, not ruled by ideology." (pp. 5, 134) There is no one not directed by ideology or Weltanschauung.

What a loss should this book lie as a shibboleth gatekeeper on chichi coffee tables, now waned the "(after)glow and gush" of necessarily encounter-like V-Day events. Even worse should it become the latest "little red book." 

 

Link: The Vagina Monologues: Read by the author, by Eve Ensler

Link: Publisher's gallery of photographs from Vagina Warriors

 

© 2005 A. P. Bober 

A. P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view.  His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields.  Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neurophysiology.


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